Calais mulls starting own ambulance service

Posted Aug. 28, 2008, at 10:17 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:20 a.m.

CALAIS, Maine — The city is investigating dropping out of the countywide ambulance authority and starting its own service.

A council workshop will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9, at the City Building. The public is invited.

Calais is currently part of the Washington County Medical Service Authority, a quasimunicipal entity that was created more than five years ago and oversees Downeast EMS operations.

A resident from each of the service communities — from Danforth to Calais, Lubec to Whiting and towns in between — serves on the authority’s board of directors. The authority provides service to 22 towns, but the authority’s three major players are Calais, Eastport and Lubec.

Although grant money was expected to cover capital costs when the ambulance service started up, it did not materialize. Calais, Eastport and Lubec bankrolled the $800,000 equipment startup costs.

The authority contracted with the Bangor Fire Department to handle its billing.

All revenues from the ambulance service go to the Washington County Medical Service Authority and are distributed accordingly.

In June, Calais councilors, unhappy with how much it was costing the city, directed City Manager Diane Barnes to look into the city’s going it alone.

The city is paying more than $93,000 a year to the authority.

“The way it is set up right now, Calais, Eastport and Lubec, out of their annual stipends, $50,000 of that goes to pay for capital equipment, which the other towns are not paying, just our three communities,” Barnes said.

The city manager said she has been looking into all aspects of the issue. “I have to admit that going through this process they have good reason to be concerned,” she said of the councilors.

If the city decides to go it alone, Barnes said, she does not expect the level of service to change. There has been speculation that some of the surrounding communities would join with Calais if it were to break away.

Barnes said the city was ahead of other communities if it starts its own ambulance service because so much of its infrastructure already is in place.

The authority’s ambulance service is housed at the fire department on North Street.

“What is unique about our situation is that we have everything in place to begin our service. We have the personnel. We have the base. The only things we lack are the ambulances,” Barnes said. “It is unknown at this time what would happen there, whether we’d retain ownership of the ambulances through the authority or we would have to go out and lease or buy ambulances.”

Among those who plan to attend the workshop, Barnes said, is Steve Buck, the town manager of Caribou. She said he planned to talk about his town’s ambulance service.

“He is very well versed in setting up ambulance services — the whole gamut, even through the billing and the receivables,” she said.

Handling the billing is one of the things the city is also looking at, Barnes, said.

“I think we can do better at the billing and collections because we could dictate how we want to collect that money that is uncollectable,” she said. “Right now it is an authority decision; it is not a Calais decision. We can be more aggressive on that and collect more money.”

Barnes stressed that the workshop was informational only. “It is not a session where we are going to decide anything,” she said. She said the council would hold a public hearing before any decisions would be made. A decision isn’t expected until sometime next year.

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